Friday, May 16, 2014

Margaret of Cortona, penitent.

May 16

'Penitent' not 'celebrity'.

If Margaret lived today I wonder if she would have her conversion story online or published in a best seller?

In her day - as in Matt Talbot's day, penitents actually did penance.  They didn't publicize their repentance and piety.  Although their manner of life witnessed to it.  Like Matt Talbot, Margaret knelt upon the steps of the church before Mass.  She with a rope around her neck - penance was still somewhat public in her day.  Penance was not a boast however - the penitent was hardly a celebrity.  Margaret's celebrity had been her beauty and her sexuality - her penance was reparation for her misuse of that.  In fact, her desire to publicly express her penance had to be restrained by her confessors - that she not call attention to herself.

Margaret is a saint for our times.  How many use beauty and grace to attract attention to oneself?  How many seek riches and comfort and sexual pleasure in bad relationships?  How many youth run away to seek fame and glamour?  How many runaways end up homeless and alone, addicted?  Fortunately for Margaret, in her lonely sorrow she returned to Christ, since she had been trained in the faith as a young child.      

Margaret was a lonely soul, all of her life - even with her lover and son.  It was the cross she sought to escape through promiscuous behavior and ultimately an illicit relationship - but everywhere she (we) met that cross.  Was she celibate after her conversion?  Technically, yes.  Would she make a big deal of that the way we do in our culture?  I hardly think so.  It was her state in life, the condition of her life - even as a 'single' mother.

She retired into greater solitude at the end.  Even then they gossiped about her, some doubting the authenticity of her conversion - yet she didn't try to defend herself by publishing her penance, much less the Divine revelations and communications Our Lord shared with her.  It was after her death that her conversion and penance was made known by her confessor, and the rumors and innuendo finally ceased.

She has so much to teach us in our day.  To read her complete story, go here.

Art: Artist unknown.  Source.  


  1. Terry, serious question -- what is the lesson we should take from lives like these?

    What I mean is that many of us who have come back to the Sacraments have lived lived far more sinful than many of the great penitents. In particular in sexual sin ... but we don't kneel on the steps of the church with a rope around our necks, wear a hairshirt, etc. In fact, to do so would seem almost prideful in many of our cases, and most orthodox confessors would strongly discourage such things.

    How do any of us who have sinned so much and offended God so much deserve to have, even pray for, normal family lives, to EVER enjoy anything in life ever again, or do anything other than spend the rest of our lives in "sackcloth and ashes" so to speak?

    Whenever I read about saints like this, the great penitents, all I can ever think of is how many of them were no worse than I was, and I was in fact worse than many. So how can I "get away with" living the life of a normal Catholic, doing not much more than the penance the Church requires of everyone, and even daring to pray to God to have a good wife and a family?

    1. Anonymous7:51 AM

      This is a question that has bothered me as well. From what I've read of the spiritual writers, we are not to imitate the saints in their austerities and penances (for this requires a special calling). We are, however, called to suffer to a certain degree, and for the vast majority of us this mainly consists in doing our duties in our state in life, praying regularly, and receiving the sacraments.

    2. " We are, however, called to suffer to a certain degree, and for the vast majority of us this mainly consists in doing our duties in our state in life, praying regularly, and receiving the sacraments."

      And that is so easy to do in today's world? That is indeed the penance we are called to in our age - the part you forgot to mention is keeping the Commandments and Precepts of the Church - part of the duties of our state of course - and a huge part that is.

      That is penance in our day - as well as caring for those most in need - charity.

      The extraordinary penances of the saints, as the witness of the martyrs, invite us to a greater generosity of spirit, a deeper fidelity to the Gospel, which in our day may require heroic sacrifice.

  2. And thats not even touching on the people who knelt outside of churches for years because they did things like *danced* ...

    1. I think I really do have the impression that Catholicism is ALL suffering and misery, and God wants us to all be suffering and miserable at all times, and not enjoy ANYTHING in this world. That's really the impression I get from the saints. It's wrong, it's sinful, and everything else ... ad it makes it so, so hard to trust God, to pray, to love Him, and to avoid judging others. After all, how can a "real Catholic" enjoy anything but praying and doing penance? Even St. Therese in her autobiography had something to say about her cousins who weren't Catholic enough because they enjoyed life.

    2. Merc - I can't answer seriously because I just my post for tomorrow - which publishes at midnight. I'm laughing so hard. Watch the cat video and skip this post.

    3. Haha thanks Terry. I cooled down, too :)


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